Australian Open Men's Preview
By Mike McIntyre
Novak Djokovic comes in with perhaps the best chance of repeating as Australian Open champion of anyone I can ever remember. While we can't say he is an absolute lock to hoist the trophy in two week's, it would be shocking to see anyone dethrone him the way he has been playing. He started 2016 by winning the title in Doha where he demolished Rafa Nadal in the finals 6-1, 6-2. The world No. 1 faces Hyeon Chung of Korea in the opening round. It will be their first career meeting and the 19 year old Chung will be up against it in this pressure situation. Ranked 51st in the world already, Chung is clearly someone to watch down the road. In the opening round however he will be watching a clinic put on by the 5 time Aussie Open champion. Djokovic could see 14th seed Gilles Simon in the fourth round and then Kei Nishikori or Jo Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters. He is matched in the same half of the draw as Roger Federer which would make for the semi-final everyone is hoping for - well everyone except for the other 62 players in their section of the field.
Federer starts with Nikoloz Basilashvili in the opening round and then could see baby Fed - Grigor Dimitrov - in the third round. Federer defeated Dimitrov in his opening tournament of 2016 in Brisbane 6-4, 6-7, 6-4. Fed could then meet the winner between a potential third round match between two up and coming players on the ATP World Tour in Dominic Thiem and David Goffin.
While 6th seed Tomas Berdych is also in Federer's quarter, I see Australian Nick Kyrgios who is seeded 29th as the real dark horse in this section of the draw. Having the home crowd behind him will be a huge boost and he also has a nice draw with his first two rounds. The two have never faced each other before but I'm going with the 20 year old to have a breakthrough here. He made the quarterfinals a year ago and therefore has the experience here in Melbourne of going deep in the draw. Berdych has done well here with two semi-final appearances in 2014 and 2015 and three quarter-final appearances before that, but at the age of 30 he is running out of time of actually winning a Grand Slam in his career. If he does get through the young Kyrgios, I don't see him beating Federer in the quarters.
In the bottom half of the draw 5th seeded Rafael Nadal will be looking to make the semifinals of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2014. Last year was a difficult one for Nadal although he did still manage to finish top five in the rankings. Nadal has made the finals here three times, winning once in 2009. Nadal has a brutal draw having to face compatriot Fernando Verdasco right off the bat. Despite holding a 14-2 career H2H against Verdasco, Nadal has lost two of their last three meetings. Nadal could then face Jeremy Chardy in the 3rd round, Gael Monfils in the 4th and will have to likely see either Stan Wawrinka or Milos Raonic in the quarters. I'm sure Rafa will have more success at the majors this year if he can stay healthy, but I can't see him getting too deep in Melbourne early in the season.
A Raonic vs Wawrinka fourth round match is the one I'm most anticipating. While the Swiss world No. 4 leads their career meetings 4-0, Raonic when healthy is a player that nobody wants to face. Just ask Roger Federer who was beaten by the Canadian in the finals last week in Brisbane. Whoever wins this match is my pick to go to the semi-finals and I wouldn't even be surprised if they ended up meeting Djokovic at the end of it all.
In the final quarter of the draw one cannot overlook Andy Murray, the second seed. Murray did not add to his two Grand Slam titles in 2015 but he did manage to lead Great Britain to a Davis Cup championship. Murray will not be satisfied without winning a Slam in 2016, or will he be? I often fail to see the same hunger in Murray as we have all seen time and time again in Djokovic, Federer and Nadal. Murray's family life will also be changing sometime towards the end of the Aussie Open as his wife is due to deliver their first child. Murray has already admitted he will fly back to the UK for the birth of their child regardless of how far he has progressed in the tournament. All things being equal however, we should see Murray get to the semi-finals without too much trouble. He opens against the young Alexander Zverev but then has smooth sailing until a potential fourth round match versus 16th seed Bernard Tomic and a quarter-final meeting that could be against 8th seed David Ferrer. A pretty darn good draw for a Grand Slam if you ask me. Also of note in this section of the draw is Lletyon Hewitt who is playing in his 20th and final Australian Open. Hewitt plays against a fellow Aussie, James Duckworth, in what could be a fitting way to end his playing career. More than likely I would see Hewitt with a final victory followed by a tough five set loss against Ferrer who he would likely face in the second round.
Check back with us throughout the tournament for updates and analysis. There is always plenty to talk about at the first Grand Slam of the year and Australia has been known to produce some unlikely finalists and even champions throughout it's remarkable history. While Djokovic is going to be a tough one to upset, you just never know how things will play out as everybody starts the season on relatively equal footing after the off season.